Hard News by Russell Brown


Relieving Ambiguity

The Charter is dead, and it will be replaced by -- The Charter! Well, it's possible. As I noted last week, National's Broadcasting policy one-pager does not actually say a National government would do away with TVNZ's Charter.

But once its Charter funding was removed, TVNZ would have the opportunity to draft its own mission statement. It could return to the SOE mission statement by which it operated until 2003, adapt the current Charter wording or, in theory, keep the whole damn thing -- just not the money. A National-led government would not have an opinion on the matter.

That was the word from National's spokesman, Jonathan Coleman, at the recording of Media7 last night. Coleman also clarified another "ambiguity" in the Broadcasting policy announcement. The paper says National would continue to support Radio New Zealand and Maori Television -- but it does not say it would do so at current levels. In the absence of such an assurance, a suspicious person might fear budget cuts.

I asked Coleman if he'd like to add the words "at current levels" and he agreed that he would. So that's settled, then. Also, for the avoidance of doubt, "Radio New Zealand" includes all RNZ services, and not just National.

Anyway, the discussion was quite lively and you can watch it on TVNZ 7 at 9.30pm tonight, or wait for the links tomorrow morning.

If National's Broadcasting policy was largely about continuity, then its Arts Culture and Heritage policy, released yesterday, doubles that. Chris Finlayson (who, as a former chair of the New Zealand Arts Foundation, knows the territory) is keeping everything: the PACE scheme, NZ On Air funding for "Kiwi music", the Music Industry Commission, the two main screen production funds (while reforming the Film Commission), Rockquest -- even the often-pilloried (but in reality, tightly-accounted and effective) PACE scheme.

Finlayson also does not encumber himself with "ambiguities" over funding levels:

"As I've travelled around New Zealand listening to those involved in arts, culture and heritage, the question I hear most often is, will National cut funding to the arts? I am pleased to announce today that the next National Government will be maintaining funding to this vibrant, creative, and dynamic sector at least at current levels," says National's Arts, Culture and Heritage spokesman, Chris Finlayson.

"While in these tighter economic times it is not appropriate to significantly grow funding, it would also be counter-productive to reduce funding.

The areas in which the policy does deviate are those where there is an active constituency for a change of tack. National would not pursue the Artists' Resale Royalty -- which is so loathed by many people in the visual arts business that some would vote National purely to be rid of it. And it would "reform" the Film Commission (good luck with that) and rein in the Ministry of Culture and Heritage to its "core" roles (another promise that will win some friends in screen land).

If this were The Standard, I'd doubtless be diving through Hansard to find all the occasions on which Gerry Brownlee or someone has slammed PACE as some sort of artists' dole slush fund, or otherwise damned Labour's arts policies and the ministers associated with them. But what's the point? This is essentially an endorsement of Labour's reforms and initiatives in arts policy. It's sensible and savvy.

And finally, I'm glad the judge presiding over Owen Walker's case -- and, indeed, the local police -- focused on demonstrable harm, rather than simply reciting the FBI's financial phone-number figures for the damage caused by his coding of botnets. It's very likely that Walker, an Asperger Syndrome 18 year-old, did not appreciate who or what he was dealing with, and he seems to have had no knowledge of the criminal activity being undertaken by people who were paying him to code. He was dismissed without a conviction that would have sharply curtailed his chances of using his abilities for good; but required to pay reparations of $10,000 to Pennsylvania University (where his attempt to remotely take over a server did cause damage), plus court costs; and to surrender gear obtained with the money he'd been paid. Good call, that judge.

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